As people grow older, family relationships and resources change. “Solo seniors” is a term for older adults who feel that they do not have a significant other to act on their behalf if or when needed. Reasons vary and may include lack of family and friends in close proximity, a wish not to burden others, or unreliable family support. Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Southern Arizona has launched a new program to address this need.
“JFCS’ Solo Senior Support Project and Surrogate Services fill a niche in a very in-depth way. Many seniors in our community do not have someone to put as their ‘emergency contact’ or power of attorney and they either worry, or do not want to contemplate, what that means for them if they experience a life altering event or for their end of life treatment,” says Elise Bajohr, JFCS program manager for older adults and adults with disability services.
Planning ahead has many benefits, says Bajohr. It can provide peace of mind, self-empowerment, and the retention of a solo senior’s rights, reduce emotional stress and reduce the risk of someone unfamiliar making critical decisions for them. Planning ahead also allows individuals to decide what end-of-life care they want, and creates the opportunity to determine advance directives such as living wills and choosing a healthcare person of authority.
It is impossible to predict when a medical crisis may occur or when there may be significant changes in a person’s health or mental status that will impact their capacity to make their choices known.
The ranks of the “solo senior” demographic are growing, according to AARP.
A 2015 AARP Public Policy report, “Valuing the Invaluable,” concluded that while there were 7.2 potential family caregivers for every person age 80 and older in 2010, that ratio is likely to fall to 4 to 1 by 2030, and could sink to 3 to 1 by 2050.
Surrogates act on a solo senior’s behalf when they are unable to communicate their wishes, when they need a trusted advisor or partner, or when they want to make a change in their advance directive.
“Our surrogate program is a way to avoid ethics panels or the need for guardianship. Individuals can get the care they want with the help of professionals who know how to talk to medical practitioners,” says Marshall Herron, principle fiduciary with JFCS.
Through the Solo Senior Support Program, JFCS provides presentations about how to choose a surrogate and get medical directives enacted. JFCS also offers expert assistance and personalized care management. Their team of professionals serves as a support system during life’s challenges by explaining options, prioritizing needs, coordinating services and navigating the health care system. They can manage the special needs of individuals through healthcare power of attorney, trustee, conservator and guardianship services.
To find out more about the JFCS Solo Seniors Support Program, call 795-0300.